Morrison government pressured Home Affairs to release details on election day boat interception
The former Morrison government leaked information about the interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat on election day, according to a Department of Home Affairs report.
Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo found departmental officials, including the Australian Border Force (ABF), acted with integrity by refusing to release a media statement while an operation was underway.
A statement was later released by the department minutes after Scott Morrison’s election day press conference, but the report found it refused requests to post it on social media or send it to journalists.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil described the move as a "disgraceful” characteristic of a government “which frequently pursued political interests above the national interest”.
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“The former government had a duty to protect Australia. Instead, they sabotaged the protocols that protect Operation Sovereign Borders for political gain,” Ms O’Neil said in a statement.
“Their actions undermined the integrity of this complex operation, making it more difficult and dangerous."
During his final press conference as Prime Minister, Mr Morrison was asked about reports a Sri Lankan vessel had been intercepted by the Australian Border Force.
“Reports have just dropped now that a vessel has been intercepted in an attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka, what's your response to that?” a journalist asked.
Mr Morrison confirmed the interception despite the department not yet publishing an official statement to the public.
"The information may have made its way to the journalist separate to, and before, the ABF newsroom announcement," the report said.
According to the report, Mr Pezzullo was aware the boat interception could be a “very late election issue”.
He then advised the department to “keep an eye out for any chatter on social media or worse, any leaks to the media.”
Mr Pezzullo also refused a request from then-home affairs minister Karen Andrews asking for a statement to be emailed to select journalists.
Later that day the Liberal Party sent a text to millions of Australian voters reading: “BREAKING – Aust Border Force has intercepted an illegal boat trying to reach Aus. Keep our borders secure by voting Liberal today.”
The vessel, believed to be carrying 15 people, was intercepted off the west coast of Christmas Island before they were later returned to Sri Lanka.